Hanoi is considered by many to be the Paris of the east—one of the world’s most unique and exciting places to visit. As the capital of Vietnam and home to over ten million citizens this is a city which quickly captures the imagination of the thousands of visitors who arrive here every year. The city thrives on a powerful energy. The opportunities here for fun coupled with adventure are unlimited. This is why coming to Hanoi is widely recognized around the world as one of the best travel moves you will ever make.
Beginning your Hanoi fun
A great place to start is in an Old Quarter hotel or hostel. After you’ve checked in and are rested you can begin your Hanoi adventure by simply walking down the street to a local coffee shop. Order the one of a kind, world famous, thick and creamy, “Vietnamese egg coffee”. You are going to love this amazing treat.
Now that you are caffeine energized you can start to explore the rustic wonder of the Old Quarter neighborhoods. The Old Quarter district is where the magic really happens in Hanoi. The honking horns and sounds of motorbikes is a non-stop reminder of the continual vibrant energy of Hanoi. Soon all these sounds will blend together and become nothing more than background noise which you will hardly notice. As you walk you will begin to discover tons of restaurants, bars, cafes and clubs and start to feel the all around good vibes of your new neighborhood.
The Old Quarter is made up of a collection of about 36 streets each specializing in the selling of a particular item like jewelry, shoes, shirts or toys. It’s similar to being in the individual departments of a large retail department store. Take your time and in a few hours it will all make sense to you.
Fun stuff to do in Hanoi.
1. Walk around Hoan Kiem Lakes
In the middle of Old Quarter you will find the beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake. This tranquil lake, filled with many wonderful views, is a perfect place for walking and people watching while you peacefully escape the hustle and bustle of the nearby city streets.
When on your walk be sure to check out St. Joseph’s Cathedral. Built by the French in 1886 it is one of the rare Christian churches found anywhere in northern Vietnam.
In the middle of the lake you’ll find the popular 13th century pagoda, Ngoc Son Temple located on Jade Island. It can be reached by crossing over the, ornate wooden red “Rising Sun Bridge”.
2. Visit the museums
There are excellent museums to be found in Hanoi. Being American my interest was piqued by the “Hoa Lo Prison”, known to Americans as the infamous “Hanoi Hilton”. So out of curiosity I visited the “Hilton” first. This is where, during the American War, the downed American pilots spent up to six years in captivity. The most famous being Navy pilot and future American presidential candidate John McCain, son of the then Naval Admiral in charge of the entire U.S. Pacific Fleet. Seeing this place first hand gave me a chilling feeling and a better understanding of what this horrendous experience must have been like for my imprisoned countrymen.
Another famous spot worth visiting is the resting place of Vietnam’s inspirational founding father, Ho Chi Minh. The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a stately large building located in the center of Da Binh Square, which is where Ho had first publicly read the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence on September 2, 1945. Inside the Mausoleum Ho’s embalmed body can be viewed daily during the morning hours from 8am to noon. A strict dress code is adhered to for both men and women as no shorts or miniskirts are allowed.
Located close to the Mausoleum is the Vietnam Military History Museum. This is a fascinating and educational place to visit. Filled with military displays, weapons, photographs and exhibits it provides an excellent opportunity to learn more about Vietnam’s wars with China, France and the United States. The air conditioned building is a refreshing escape from Hanoi’s heat but be aware that the museum closes for a two hour lunch break at 11:30am. Outside you can inspect an excellent display of captured enemy planes, tanks and helicopters in the courtyard.
The popular Vietnamese Fine Art Museum has one of the best and most diverse art collections in Vietnam. A visit here helps to provide both a new insight and an increased understanding of Vietnamese culture and history.
The museum is housed in two elegant French styled buildings once occupied by the French Ministry of Information until the 1930s. Museum treasures include rare, ancient Champa sculptures and impressive effigies of Quan Am the thousand eyed and thousand armed Goddess of compassion. Most of the hundreds of beautiful art pieces are accompanied by English explanation cards.
3. The weekend night market
This exciting night market occurs in the Old Quarter on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights starting around 7pm. The market activity takes place between Hang Dao Street and the Dong Xuan Market. The market provides an excellent opportunity for picture taking as the pedestrian streets are all illuminated by decorative lights and lanterns. The lighting energizes the festive atmosphere making it fun and lively for all to enjoy. Adding to this environment many locals will dress in traditional costumes and perform classic and traditional Vietnamese music and dances.
When shopping begin your bargaining by making an opening offer of about 25% of their initial asking price. Bargaining is expected and this is a good place to start. You should not pay more than around 50% of the original price. Also, be vigilant of the ubiquitous pick pockets which are always lurking about looking for a chance to steal your money.
4. The Water Puppet Theater
Be sure to attend the extremely popular Water Puppet show at the Thong Long Theater located near the northern end of Hoan Kiem Lake. Each performance is comprised of 17 short sketches depicting Vietnamese life and folklore. A classic Vietnamese orchestra accompanies each story with traditional operatic songs and music using drums, wooden bells, horns, bamboo flutes and cymbals.
The tradition of the water puppet performances date back hundreds of years to the rice paddies of the Red River Delta where farmers invented this original art form as a way of entertaining the workers in the paddies. The puppet shows have greatly evolved over the centuries into the sophisticated form of entertainment seen on stage today.
Due to the shows popularity tickets sell out quickly so it is recommended that you purchase your tickets as soon as possible after arriving in Hanoi. When available, it is advisable to buy upgraded tickets as close to the front as possible as the puppets are small and the action is fast.
5. The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
The ancient Imperial Citadel is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The central feature of the citadel is the flag tower which stands 40 meters high. This tower is its most easily seen and recognizable feature of the citadel and is considered by many to be the main symbol of Hanoi. The ancient citadel is open from 8:00 to 17:00 and is located in the Ba Dinh district. The entrance fee is 30,000 VND and it is open every day but Monday.
Three great day+ trips from Hanoi
These three popular destinations outside of Hanoi are close enough to be visited in either one or two days.
1. Halong Bay is considered by experts to be one of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders. It is possible to make a visit to the bay in one day if you get an early start but taking at least two or more days is seriously advised.
2. Ninh Binh is a picturesque, small city about 50 miles south of Hanoi. Best known for its beautiful landscape, topography and caves. It is only an hour outside of Hanoi. The best way to see the sights here is by taking a tour in a small boat paddled by a local lady.
3. Sapa is a mountain town famous for its stunning views and verdant terraced rice paddies. Most visitors are there to experience the incredible trekking opportunities for which it is best known. As it is a 7-hour overnight train ride from Hanoi this trip actually requires 2-4 days to really do it properly.
OK, are you ready for your trip of a life time? A trip involving the visiting of one of the most diversified holiday destinations in the entire world? A country that has an unmatched menu of experiences to offer you the tourist.
Now all you need to do is to go online and book your flight and a few hotels and get yourself ready for the best vacation experience of your life. What are you waiting for?